The Spring 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Shun Asanaga has always loved crystals. Ever since he was little, he's imagined that each beautiful mineral contains an entire world all its own, but at fifteen years old, he never dreamed that his fantasies would actually turn out to be true! After barging into his eccentric scientist father's office, Shun encounters a crystal more exquisite than he's ever seen before. The instant he touches it, Shun is transported into the fantasy world of Endora, where the deposed Prince Emilio sits in prison for an attempted assassination of the man who killed his father and stole the throne. Emilio seems surprised that someone has come here from the "surface world," but he's even more surprised to learn that Shun has his own Warp Relic: mystical weapons that emerge from the souls of a chosen few like Endora's own royalty. With their fates now entwined, will Shun help Prince Emilio reclaim his father's crown? Or does destiny have something else in store for these newfound rivals? Endride is based on an upcoming smartphone game and can be found streaming on Funimation, Saturdays at 3:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Review: Wow. I'm not sure if a “transported to another world” fantasy series could get off to a more generic start if it tried.
At least the series doesn't piddle around about setting up its premise. Shun loves crystals, gets transported by one to a fantasy realm where people can manifest weapons called Warp Relics, and soon discovers that he can manifest one, too. He falls in with a young prince who's trying to avenge his father against a powerful usurper and they escape the castle's dungeons together, battle a strong minion, escape again, and meet a pretty girl.
And that's about it. No sign of subtlety, nuance, depth, or originality is to be found anywhere in all of this. Perhaps that will come later, but as I understand it, this is meant to be a companion piece to an upcoming smartphone game, so I am not expecting much. The hero from the “surface world,” Shun, has no personality so far beyond being energetic, so that, at least, will have to improve. Emilio is a little more interesting as the quietly vengeful prince, but he doesn't offer anything that you can't find in any of a plethora of other series, either. The only real question about them at this point is whether or not their relationship is ultimately going to go in a yaoi direction. Even five years ago I probably wouldn't have considered that angle, but with the recent rise of fujoshi-oriented series it can't be ruled out, and there does seem to be a certain vibe developing between them already. But there is also the pretty girl (and her unimpressively cute little dragon) involved, so I guess we'll see on that.
The production effort by Brain's Base offers some attractive character designs but offsets that with uninspired artwork in both backgrounds and fight choreography. The specter of off-model character artistry also rears its ugly head. The animation seems stiff in the fight scenes, too, though it is passable elsewhere.
The one hope I might hold out for this series is that it is directed by Keiji Gotoh, and each of his other major lead directorial efforts (Kiddy Grade, Sengoku Collection, Uta-Kata) has started out weak but produced unexpected storytelling quality and depth as it progressed. This one starts out even weaker and duller than his other projects, though, so it has a steeper hill to climb.
Attractive boys with magical swords take center stage in this alternate world fantasy by Chaika writer Youka Machida and Kiddy Grade director Keiji Gotoh. The set-up is very by-the-numbers, with a starry-eyed protagonist who sure means well and ends up tumbling head over heels into an underground medieval world. There's a questionable monarch, an exiled prince, and a cute dragon. We're just missing our scoundrel rogue and a know-it-all wizard and we'll have a complete set.
There's nothing here that immediately sets Endride apart from other genre entries, artistically or thematically. It's a solid, middle-of-the-road show with a heavily male-centric cast to pull in the female viewership. Its two leads manage to balance their (albeit one-note) traits well enough to refrain from being obnoxious. Shun is naïve, but he isn't stupid or too bull-headed. Emilio is argumentative, but he isn't an outright asshole. Surely their initial misgivings will blossom into a beautiful partnership, they'll dispose of the ruling despot, and Shun will get back above ground and finally convince his dad to quit being an overworked, neglectful jerk.
Seriously, his mom should walk no matter how much of a genius scientist her husband is. She gave up her archaeological dreams for him, and he can't even sit down and have cake with her for his birthday? Kick him to the curb, Mrs. Asanaga. In fact, I'll keep my fingers crossed that the show does regular cutaways so we can watch Shun's parents' marriage come to a head while he's on his subterranean adventure.
Really though, Endride doesn't have much to make it stand out from others of its ilk, but if you're looking for an easily digestible fantasy series with some competent sword battles and a male cast to oggle, there's worse things to spend your time watching than this. You already know how it ends as soon as it gets started, but if the writers can work in a little more character drama than Shun's “I like crystals” and Emilio's “the king is a jerk,” it could be a decent enough ride to the inevitable end result.
Apparently there is a world underneath ours where everyone has epic eyebrows and some have the ability to carry weapons within their sternums that they can summon. This world is called Endora, and I'm largely basing that “underneath ours” thing on the fact that when our plucky but unlikely hero arrives there halfway through the episode, Prince Emilio asks him if he's from “the surface.” As a certified Alice's Adventures in Wonderland nut, I'm all for mysterious sub-surface worlds, and I have to admit that I'm kind of taken by the fact that large gems appear to take the place of celestial orbs in terms of lighting the skies of Endora – it's a creative touch that feels at odds with the otherwise cookie-cutter nature of this first episode, which has a lot of the usual “transported to another world” tropes.
The episode is somewhat clumsily divided into three parts – hero Shun Asanaga going about his normal day before getting pulled into Endora after touching something he probably shouldn't have, Prince Emilio trying to kill King Delzaine for reasons that involve his father, the former king, and what happens after the two meet up. It's really the Emilio part that doesn't flow quite right; it feels shoehorned in to give us Emilio's backstory and still get he and Shun to meet up within the first episode. Not that Shun's daily life of obsessing over rocks and crystals and trying to get his workaholic dad to come home would necessarily have made for a full episode's worth of material. He's quirky and plucky in the mold of most quirky and plucky shounen heroes; his thing just so happens to be rocks and minerals. He frequents a specialty store – drawn with remarkable realism; it looks almost exactly like one I used to go to – goes to school, and seems to have a happy life. He also never takes his bag off of his back, which is mostly strange when he's sitting at the dinner table with his mother. (She won't let him sit with his feet on his chair, but she'll let him wear his backpack at dinner?) Probably the most interesting thing about him is the fact that he's fed up with his father – it's clear the man almost never comes home, instead working to all hours at his lab, even when his son specifically asks him not to, and Shun is obviously hurt and angry about it.
Despite his dad's frequent absences, Shun seems like a cheery guy; he's not even too fazed when he realizes that he's in another world. Interestingly Emilio isn't that shocked by it either, and the fact that he has an idea where Shun comes from seems to indicate that visitors aren't an unknown event. He immediately accepts Shun as a friend, or at least compatriot, when Shun panics and summons a warp relic, a weapon from within his chest where we saw the blue crystal that brought him to Endora absorb earlier, and manages to save him, which is a nice departure from the usual suspicious nature of deposed prince characters. In fact, he seems more eager to take Shun under his wing than to distrust him.
This is one of the aspects that gives me hope that Endride will turn out to be more than it at first appears. This first episode feels like it's trying to get us to a specific point before it launches into the real story, and while the weaving together of the two boys’ plots isn't smoothly done, it does provide an easy entry point into both the overall plot and Endora. Clearly Shun's mineralogical aspirations are going to be helpful in an underground world, and no one who wears shoulder armor like Delzaine's could possibly be considered a good guy in a fantasy story, so a rebellion is clearly brewing. Despite its pretty basic first episode, Endride actually feels like it might go somewhere interesting, and is worth another episode or two to see if it can smooth out its storytelling…and keep that overly cute little dragon that comes in at the end from being annoying.
Jacob Hope Chapman
The first line of this episode is a shopkeeper telling our starry-eyed young hero, "You sure are obsessed with crystals!"
Uh oh. Is Endride trying to sell us something?
Last season, I missed the memo that Luck & Logic was made to promote an upcoming smartphone game when writing up the show. Well, fool me once, shame on you. I've got you this time, Endride! You can't trick me with that "original anime production" promotion! All those crystals are coming to an iPhone near you, and I bet most of them are freemium content!
In all seriousness, outside of a few little eyebrow-raising mobile game nods, this is a pretty textbook "chosen hero falls into fantasy world" setup, not remotely exciting, but just solid and familiar enough not to be too bad either. Unlike last season's Luck & Logic, the world-building in this collectible fantasy doesn't seem remotely unique. (It's a gem-themed underland populated with soldiers in medieval armor, beast warriors, and cute girls with tiny dragons! Heroes with improbable clothing summon glowing weapons from their chests!) But also unlike Luck & Logic, the action and pacing of this first episode is much more clear and conventional. If I hadn't double-checked the production tie-ins, I would just as easily have assumed this was based on a (long-forgotten) manga.
The laughably blatant homoeroticism between the two leads also gives it a touch of extra flavor, for better or worse. It's hard not to assume that these two are nobles of enemy bloodlines or something, which means that shiny-things-obsessed Shun and triple-belted-yet-midriff-baring Emilio will have to turn their proud and erect heart-weapons against each other at some point! If that kind of camp seems up your alley, Endride may be good for a few giggles and fantastical fights. For everyone else, this mobile game commercial is just a little too bland to recommend.
Time for swords, crystals, and cute boys with improbable outfits! Endride's first episode presents us with a pretty classic “boy finds a strange relic and is transported to a fantasy world” narrative, but its well-worn premise has a number of individual quirks. For one thing, its protagonist Shun Asanaga really, really likes crystals.
Like, a ton. The first six minutes of this episode are largely dedicated to letting Shun marvel over crystals, to the point where when he finally touches the wrong crystal and gets transported to a new world, it feels like a serious betrayal of trust. There he runs into the requisite Exiled Prince, and is eventually joined by the Cute Mascot and the Girl, necessary accessories if you're planning on going on any magical adventures.
But sticking to genre beats isn't a crime, and as far as this sort of story goes, Endride's first episode moves quickly and is relatively aesthetically polished. The animation isn't spectacular, but it's consistent throughout, and one early fight scene between the exiled prince and the usurping king actually has a decent sense of weight to it. The character designs are clearly intended to maximize the appeal of the main two guys, and though some sillier embellishments like the prince's three belts somewhat strain credulity, the designs are certainly attractive and expressive enough. The direction is reasonably dynamic as well, and the show has a nicely broad color palette. Endride isn't strong enough visually for that to be a reason to watch it by itself, but the visuals are up to the task of supporting the overall production.
The real issue I have with Endride is that it has yet to offer a truly compelling hook. “I like crystals” is not a reason to feel invested in a character, and Endride's exiled prince has yet to gain any texture beyond his archetype. The lead boys are certainly cute, but Endride is competent enough in its aesthetics and storytelling that I expect more from the show than just shipping appeal. From the way the show mirrored the protagonists early on to the easy banter of the two leads, there are enough actually noteworthy touches here to make me hope the show builds into something better. If you're looking for attractive boys or shows specifically within this genre, Endride is already a perfectly reasonable production, but if it can add some legitimate personality to either its characters or narrative, it could be a genuinely solid show.
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